Sep 13

Mets Wrap: LaTroy Hawkins Still Has The Right Stuff

When the New York Mets begin their annual winter task of building their bullpen, they’d be wise to consider three names instrumental in beating Miami tonight at Citi Field.

Yes, Lucas Duda gets props for a three-run homer, Jon Niese pitched into the seventh, and Andrew Brown took advantage of a rare start by hitting a mammoth home run, but the Mets might not have won without Vic Black, Pedro Feliciano and LaTroy Hawkins.

HAWKINS: Still has it. (AP)

HAWKINS: Still has it. (AP)

By definition, winning 4-3 is not a slam-dunk, but a study of perseverance and endurance. Those three carried the Mets to the end.

Hawkins has been solid all year in a set-up role, and despite his reservations, assumed the closer role when Bobby Parnell went down and excelled, picking up his ninth save with a 1-2-3 ninth highlighted by a classic punch-out of Giancarlo Stanton, who already hit two homers.

In a masterful display, Hawkins got ahead 0-and-2 with two inside fastballs. Stanton wouldn’t bite on two down-and-away sliders to even the count 2-and-2. But, fearless as usual, Hawkins blew away Stanton inside with a 94 mph. fastball.

At 40, most teams might consider Hawkins an afterthought in constructing a bullpen, but he still has the fastball plus the guile that can’t be measured by a radar gun.

Not only does he get the job done, but he’s an invaluable and calming influence to the younger relievers and in the clubhouse.

My favorite Hawkins moment came at mid-season when the Mets – including manager Terry Collins – danced around the Jordany Valdespin saga. However, Hawkins, a proud veteran, called it as he saw it and wouldn’t let the immature Valdespin off the hook.

Meanwhile, Feliciano doesn’t throw in the 90s, but is still an effective lefty specialist and last night closed the eighth by getting Christian Yelich on a grounder to second.

If used properly – which is to say sparingly and not wear him out – Feliciano is still a plus.

The Mets don’t know Parnell’s availability next year after undergoing neck surgery. They must assume they won’t have him, at least at the start.

They’ll need a closer and Black, who throws in the mid-90s, could emerge as the choice. In preparing for next season, Collins should use Black in as many pressure situations as possible.

Of course, the bullpen key for 2014 is Parnell. If healthy, the three could slot in behind him and GM Sandy Alderson’s bullpen reclamation would be halfway done.

The key to a strong bullpen is having quality starters capable of working deep into the game as Niese did last night. The fewer innings the bullpen works, the more effective.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Sep 11

Mets Wrap: Zack Wheeler Shows Mettle In Defeat

The New York Mets believe Zack Wheeler will be an anchor in their rotation for a long time to come. He took the loss against Washington Wednesday night, but showed more than enough of the right stuff to say this is going to be a stud pitcher to build around.

Easily, the most important thing Wheeler demonstrated was poise under pressure. He pitched out of a second-and-third, one-out jam in the first; escaped a runner on second and one-out threat in the fourth; and got out of a runners on the corners with two outs problem in the seventh.

WHEELER: Dealing big time. (AP)

WHEELER: Dealing big time. (AP)

It was great to see Wheeler challenge hitters with his fastball, especially inside. And the control issues he had earlier, well, just one walk.

“This guy competes on the mound,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “With his stuff, in first inning, he did a great job getting out of that jam. I’m impressed with the way Zack Wheeler has pitched.’’

Wheeler made one bad pitch, that being a slider left over the plate Ryan Zimmerman crushed for a homer in the sixth. It was the first homer he gave up in 36 innings, remarkable for a rookie.

Vic Black, who could get a look at the closer role in spring training if Bobby Parnell hasn’t recovered from neck surgery, gave up two runs in the eighth to make it the 3-0 final.

Offensively, the Mets managed three hits as they were shut out for the second time in this series. With the loss the Mets fell a season-low 16 games below .500. It wasn’t too long ago .500 and catching the Nationals for second-place wasn’t an unrealistic goal.

Oh, by the way, with the loss the Mets were mathematically eliminated, crushing news, I know, to those who kept on dreaming.

Once again the Mets are in full swoon mode, especially offensively, in the second half. They have lost three straight, five of their last six games, and are 2-8 so far this month.

Including the Nationals Thursday, the Mets have just four games against winning teams (three with Cincinnati) the rest of the season.

Collins didn’t say the word, but he might as well called his offense clueless.

“You have to figure out what the opposing pitcher is doing to get you out,’’ Collins said. “And you have to make adjustments.’’

Clearly, the Mets aren’t making those adjustments.

Newly-acquired Aaron Harang will start for the Mets Thursday afternoon in an effort to avoid the sweep.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Sep 10

Mets Wrap: Dillon Gee Hammered; Some Positive 2014 Signs

In watching the New York Mets Tuesday night what struck me most wasn’t how much the Nationals torched Dillon Gee, but all the empty seats. All that green, along with the upcoming promotion for knit caps screams winter is coming.

Gee wasn’t himself with his command – especially the version who seemingly owned the Nationals – and dug himself into an immediate hole the Mets’ lackluster offense couldn’t overcome.

GEE: After Jayson Werth homer.

GEE: After Jayson Werth homer.

The Mets were 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven in the 6-3 loss. The Mets obviously had enough offense to threaten, but it was the same old story of not getting the clutch hit.

Offensively, the Mets have been aggressive on the bases, so it is hard to question the decision for Matt den Dekker and Eric Young to run only to have them cut down.

“We haven’t been hitting the ball out of the park lately,’’ was manager Terry Collins rationale for the attempted steals.

Even if David Wright and Ike Davis – the Mets’ power entering the season – were in the line-up it is a good thing to see them run. They’ve been doing it all season, and manufacturing runs is a must in any lineup.

On the plus side, Vic Black had a perfect inning out of the bullpen. The Mets need to take a long look him in the wake of Bobby Parnell undergoing neck surgery earlier in the day. Understandably, the Mets did not release a timetable for Parnell, but as with Matt Harvey, they have to assume they won’t have him, at least in the first part of the season.

On a down note, the Mets lost Justin Turner indefinitely with a strained hamstring.

Although they didn’t produce, I liked the combination of Young and Juan Lagares at the top of the order. When you have a weak offense, bunching speed at 1-2 is the way to go.

The Mets opened the season with questions from left-to-right in the outfield, but it isn’t hard to envision Young-den Dekker-Lagares next season.

Den Dekker contributed a two-run single going to the opposite field, which is a good sign. Collins said he’ll eventually hit for power, and there’s no question about his defense. Lagares also plays a strong center field, but has a right fielder’s arm.

The Mets say they want to add a power-hitting outfielder, but considering the loss of Harvey and indefinite loss of Parnell, adding pitching is the priority.

If the Mets can’t add a power bat in the outfield, they have to concentrate on pitching and defense – and hoping for the best from David Wright and Ike Davis.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Sep 10

What Is The Reason Why You Still Watch The Mets?

Once Zack Lutz became a New York Mets trivia answer, what was the reason to watch Monday night? What is the reason to watch, to listen, to read about the Mets anymore this season? Is the big attraction now to avoid sinking past the season-low 15 games below .500?

If you’re a reader of this, or any other blog, you’re a Mets fan and watch because that’s what you do. I’ve never liked the expression “die hard fan,’’ because it means you eventually give up and die. I also don’t like “long suffering fan,’’ because why would you do anything that makes you suffer? You might as well say “put my hand on a hot stove’’ fan.

BELIEVING

                                                                             BELIEVING

You  might be frustrated and disgusted by watching the Mets lose 9-0 to the Nationals, but it is far better than not having any Mets to watch at all.

October has to be the worst month because there’s baseball, but baseball without the Mets. At least in November there’s the start of the free-agent season, highlighted by the Winter Meetings, which is winter’s World Series.

January? You can see spring training from there, and February, regardless of the wind chill, gives us our first warming taste of summer.

It’s not like a greater force mandated you become a Mets’ fan. In some families you might be born into it, but eventually it becomes your choice to root for the Mets.

You rooted in the beginning when they lost 120 games. You rooted throughout the sixties until you were rewarded by 1969, the year of the Miracle Mets and when man first walked on the moon.

As a Mets’ fan you endured long periods of frustration and lousy ball, but once a decade you were rewarded by the postseason, in 1973, 1986, 1999, 2000 and 2006.

In a commercial David Wright said his greatest thrill was playing October baseball in New York, “that there’s nothing like it.’’

That’s the ultimate reason we watch our team, but there’s a greater, more intimate reason why you’re fascinated, enthralled or even consumed by the Mets. There was one incident, one moment, that made you into a Mets’ fan, win or lose, and lately it has been mostly losing.

If you’re willing to share, I’d be interested to know what was the defining moment, that despite a fifth straight losing season, makes you hang on for news about Bobby Parnell’s and Matt Harvey’s looming surgeries … about Ike Davis‘ situation … about the outfield for next season.

It is why we’d like to see just one more time before the leaves change Wright’s compact swing rip a ball into the gap and him running into second with a stand-up double.

I know that’s why he’s yearning for one more game in the Summer of 2013.

What are the reasons why you still hang on to the summer?

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Sep 02

Mets Need Injury Treatment Overhaul

There are several things the New York Mets must evaluate and re-evaluate this off-season, and at the top of the list is their handling of injuries, with the latest being Jon Niese cramping up on a hot and humid night.

Niese already missed time this season with a shoulder injury, and he’s just one in a long line. Matt Harvey is out for the year with a slight tear in his UCL; David Wright is on the DL with a hamstring; Jenrry Mejia had surgery to remove bone spurs; Ike Davis has a strained oblique and could be done for the season; Jeremy Hefner had a similar injury as Harvey; Zack Wheeler had a strained oblique in spring training; Bobby Parnell could require surgery in the offseason on his neck; Ruben Tejada and Lucas Duda each when on the disabled list, then sentenced to the minor leagues.

NIESE: One of many Mets injured in 2013.

NIESE: One of many Mets injured in 2013.

No team goes unscathed during a season, but the appearance is perhaps the Mets have more than most.

Why?

The initial report is Niese cramped on a hot and humid night. Sounds plausible, but with a steady taking of salt tablets and water it could have been preventable. Blame? The trainers need to stay on top of things, but the player must also be diligent.

Maybe both parties were and this was a freaky thing. But, the Mets should monitor to find out. Records could be taken of water and salt intake, just for the preventative research.

Already we know the Mets forced the issues with Harvey, Wright and Mejia, and that must stop. All arm injuries need to be addressed immediately, and with a MRI, because the Mets proved this is a major mishandling.

Hamstring and oblique tightness, as in the cases of Wright and Davis, need to come with immediate days off and treatment. For Wright to play an extra week before his popped is inexcusable, and player, training staff, manager and management must have some culpability.

Do better records need to be kept? Is the initial handling and treatment done correctly? Do the players withhold too much information for fear of losing their job? Are the rest periods too short? Should time on the disabled list be longer?

Do the players lift weights too much, and is there always a monitor for them? In weight lifting, is the weight lifted and repetitions recorded and tracked? Should their lifting be decreased later in the season? Do the players know that just showing up and lifting isn’t the proper procedure?

Are they too tight from the lifting? Should there be more stretching, even yoga, implemented in their routine? There have been cases where football teams have their players train in ballet to loosen the muscles … hey, you never know, is this something that could work?

Whatever the case, part of reaching the next level and taking care of business is staying healthy. This is an area where the Mets promised a new culture, and it is vital it be done.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos